For more than 30 years, North Carolinians have pleaded with state and federal courts to provide them with something simple: fair maps that give voters the voice they deserve in elections.
That voice has been muted because of lawmakers — both Democrats and Republicans — who for decades have drawn gerrymandered voting districts that run contrary to core principles enshrined in the Constitution.
On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered its response: You’re on your own.
In its 5-4 ruling on Rucho v. Common Cause, the Court held that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts. In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts expressed sympathy to voters who are victimized by gerrymandering, which he acknowledged is “incompatible with democratic principles.” But Roberts said the solution must come from state legislatures and Congress.
Justice Elena Kagan, in a blistering dissent, responded: “For the first time ever, this Court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities.”
We agree. If there ever was a time for the Supreme Court to give voting back to the voters, it was now. The Justices had before them two cases of egregious district drawing — one from Republicans in North Carolina and one from Democrats in Maryland. Together, they were a reminder that gerrymandering is a bipartisan scourge on voters, an affliction perpetrated by the powerful wanting to keep power, regardless of political party.
In North Carolina, Republicans were especially unabashed about it.
Previously, the Supreme Court had done what courts sometimes do — make rulings around the periphery instead of cutting to the issue at hand. Gerrymandering was wrong, the Justices said, for example, in 2016, if districts were drawn to intentionally disenfranchise groups by race. In response, N.C. Republicans did what lawmakers often do — dial back on racial gerrymandering just enough to satisfy the Court while drawing maps that still gave them a partisan advantage.
Such was the case for the Justices stepping in — because lawmakers, for the most part, act in their own self-interest. Republicans and Democrats have shown they’re concerned with gerrymandering only when it blocks them from power. Those in the majority quickly abandon the protests they once made.
Which is why the ruling is so dispiriting. Voters needed the Court to do what lawmakers won’t — to correct an unconstitutional practice, to declare the law as it so often does, to provide Americans with free and fair elections. Instead, it shrugged.
The Charlotte Observer
Die, monster, die
Partisan gerrymandering is a problem, but there’s nothing the federal courts can do about it.
That, essentially, was the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling last week in a slew of gerrymandering cases.
Given modern software and polling techniques, legislatures can carve out congressional and legislative districts that effectively ensure one political party or another a permanent majority.
North Carolina is a textbook example of what gerrymandering can do. In the last election, roughly 53 percent of votes chose Republicans and 46 percent Democrats. However, North Carolina wound up with 10 Republican congress-persons and just three Democratic ones. A similar miraculous process has pretty much guaranteed Republicans a majority in the General Assembly for most of the past decade.
There is an alternative, of course: Turn legislative redistricting over to a bipartisan or nonpartisan panel that would actually draw the maps. It could work.
So, the courts say they can’t do anything about gerrymandering. That means, the voters will have to do it themselves. Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and citizens of all persuasions are going to have to push our Honorables to do the right thing and come up with a fair, rational and nonpartisan system of districting.
The gerrymander has to be rendered extinct.